Last weekend’s Sunday Times magazine had an article on the Choice Music Prize that I couldn’t help but think was both a little snide in tone and missing the point. Every year, it seems like a certain pocket of the media thinks that there’s some kind of agenda behind the judging process – that the nominated albums have been chosen for reasons related more to diplomacy than merit, or that the winner should be chosen solely on the basis that it’ll do well in other territories. This year, the fact that the list is apparently more ‘mainstream’ is compensating for the fact that the Meteor Awards aren’t taking place this year. Gimme a break!
Mel Clarke’s article said: “Given the bizarre tendencies of the judging panel, how seriously can the prize be taken?”. Presumably, she’s referring to Super Extra Bonus Party‘s shock win in 2008, when Cathy Davey was hotly tipped to take the prize. SEBP’s triumph was certainly unexpected, but that’s what happens when you have twelve people with strong opinions and in some cases, very different tastes – the same people who decided on the diverse shortlist in the first place, don’t forget – fighting their corner.
She also says of favourite Villagers‘ chances of being crowned victor, “His Mercury Prize failure may sway the judges.” What?! I’d be extremely worried if the panel took anything like that into consideration. That statement also suggests that Choice is a tokenistic runner-up alternative to the Mercury. I know Ireland is supposedly a nation of begrudgers, but dismissing our Album of the Year award as an inferior consolation is a bit much.
I was on the judging panel in 2009, when Jape‘s ‘Ritual‘ won the Prize, and I can assure you that throughout the entire process – from the moment I was asked to participate, until the moment the winner was announced on stage – that there was no agenda, no gentle prodding in any direction – from anyone. Record companies, bands, managers, the chairman, the organisers, my fellow judges. Not a brown envelope in sight. It irritated me hugely when the conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork claiming that The Script‘s nomination had been bought by their big-bucks record company, or the other end of the spectrum of delusion – that X album should have been nominated because they were really, really nice people and worked really, really hard and had made no money whatsoever from its release. Nope. It comes down to personal taste, with a healthy smattering of good judgement – which the group of professionals who’ve been chosen to judge are presumably in possession of.
My understanding of the Choice Music Prize – even before I took part – was that it was awarded to the best Irish album released that year. No ifs or buts. No pity votes. No agendas. Simply the best Irish album released that year. We’ve got our own equivalent of the Mercury, the Polaris, the Shortlist, the Triple J – and we should be proud of the fact that our comparatively small country produces enough quality music to deem such an award necessary.
It’s a bit of a shame that, particularly this year and after one of the strongest years of Irish music we’ve had in decades, there are snipey articles like this in circulation. How about just heading along to Vicar Street tonight, enjoying a varied, fast-moving and hugely entertaining show, revelling in the buzz, and feeling a little surge of pride in the fact that every performer on stage is Irish?
Adebisi Shank – This is the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank
The Cast of Cheers – Chariot
Cathy Davey – The Nameless
Fight Like Apes – The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner
Halves – It Goes, It Goes (Forever and Ever)
Imelda May – Mayhem
James Vincent McMorrow – Early in the Morning
O Emperor – Hither Thither
Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
Villagers – Becoming a Jackal